Summary The importance of being Taiwan
On 8 May 2014 Adriaan van der Staay gave a speech about “Taiwan and the importance of small countries” for the Tomaat Club at Sociëteit De Witte, The Hague, The Netherlands.
He argued about Taiwan for the following reasons:
1. The island occupies a strategic place in geopolitics,
2. Taiwan can serve as an example of a small nation among big neighbors,
3.Taiwan is a Chinese democracy,
4. Taiwan by its history is strongly linked to the Netherlands.
Van der Staay introduced his subject with the early history of Taiwan, the coming of Western shipping and the Dutch colonization of Formosa between 1624 and 1662.
He followed this up with a first interregnum by the Ch’eng (1662-1683), the longer period of the Ch’ing (1683-1895) and the Japanese period (1895-1945). A second interregnum (1945-1949) and the establishment of the Republic of China on the island rounds off this succinct historical survey. Van der Staay ends his speech with a description of Taiwan after 1987 and general conclusions. The text is completed with a short list of relevant literature.
Speech held on 8 May 2014 for De Tomaat club, The Hague, The Netherlands
The importance of being Taiwan
In size Taiwan is slightly smaller than the Netherlands. The population is larger. Both countries have experienced occupations. They know the problem of asserting themselves in a neighbourhood of big powers.
I bought a few books about the island and its history when on a first visit to Taipei in early 2014. I tried to order my impressions.
The question I asked myself was whether Taiwan presented just a series of happenings or whether it had developed a narrative that could be interesting to the world.
Let me start with a general and negative observation: the voice of the inhabitants of Taiwan has seldom been taken into account. In world history their point of view weighs only lightly.
So what could be good reasons for an outsider to think about Taiwan? I started out with four reasons.
1. The island occupies a sensitive spot in geopolitics.
For China, historically the dominant power in East Asia, the island occupies a strategic place in its coastal defences and its relations overseas.
For the United States (during the Cold War) Taiwan became part of the containment of communism. After the Pacific War South Korea, Japan and the Philippines were America’s allies and Taiwan became a link in this defensive chain.
2. The island is an example of big/small relationships.
Taiwan could offer a case study about the problems which a small political entity will encounter in preserving a measure of autonomy in a world dominated by great powers.
3. Taiwan is a democracy.
As an example of an autonomous democracy in Asia, Taiwan is rather unique. This democracy came about in adverse circumstances.
It therefore challenges the ideological or moral solidarity of the Western World.
4. Taiwan’s history is strongly linked to the Netherlands.
Though the people of Taiwan seem more aware of this than the Dutch, Netherlanders could take notice.
Out of my musings different narratives appeared, those of the Dutch, the Chinese, the Japanese, the Americans, the islanders themselves. But was there an evolving story? For this one has to look at history first.
The prehistoric inhabitants of Taiwan probably do not hail from mainland China. Even if the island is only separated from the mainland by some 150 kilometres. The peoples of Taiwan did not form a common entity.
Taiwan belongs to the occidental volcanic rim of the Pacific, the Ring of Fire, that runs from Kamchatka by Japan and the Philippines to Indonesia.
Three quarters of the island is mountainous, with high ridges and deep valleys. The highest peaks reach nearly 4,000 meters. This always made it rather difficult to circulate in the interior.
The rather diverse aboriginal population belong to the island cultures of the Pacific rim. They are usually described as hunter-gatherer cultures, with a strong head-hunting tradition. One may compare them for instance to the tribes of Kalimantan/Borneo.
Yet one should perhaps not overdo their primitivism. Traces of early salt-trade can be observed. I myself was struck by archaeological digs near Taipei, which clearly indicated an intense manufacturing of ceramics and also kilns for making iron. This moreover points to another interesting fact: the availability of raw materials.
The aborigines trade skins and antlers of the local spotted deer to China and Japan. Deerskins from Formosa are the preferred body-armour of the samurai. This source of income has nowadays disappeared with both the samurai and the deer.
Though they do not become a voice for the island as a whole, the aborigines are a constant presence.
The marine invasion from the West
It is said that in 1544 a Portuguese ship sailed through the strait between the mainland and the island. This is a treacherous sea, with shifting currents. It is also frequented by typhoons.
For seafarers from China it has a bad reputation. It is not by chance that the cult of Ma-tsu/T’ienhou originated in the 9th century in this area. She was a real person saved from drowning, becomes a myth, and finally the goddess of deliverance at sea. At Taiwan hundreds of shrines are dedicated to the goddess. Other temples are found as far away as Korea and Singapore.
In their reports home the Portuguese seafarers call the islands sprinkled across the strait the Pescadores. The name of ‘fishermen islands’ does not indicate substantial habitation. The name has remained in international discourse till today. But on the eastern edge of the archipelago the Portuguese encounter a more formidable island and name it the Ilha Formosa, the handsome island. The Spanish call it Isla Hermosa, the Dutch Formoza. This name has now fallen out of use.
The enormous coastal sea, that extends from Korea to Malacca between the Pacific rim and the mainland, has always been contested. In the North the Japanese traders or pirates are dominant, in the far South other contenders, like the Bugi seafarers from Celebes, dominate the sea lanes.
China, in the days of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) takes control of the sea. The Fukien coast becomes a shipyard. The warships of China even reach India and Africa. But once China is satisfied that it has established its prestige around the world sufficiently, it takes the decision to retreat from the sea, and becomes a land-power. That at least seems to be the opinion of the Leiden expert Leonard Blussé in his book about the Chinese tributary system. Other authors cite menaces from central Asia or simply matters of expenditure. Anyway halfway the Ming period China retreats to a defensive position towards the sea. By fortifying harbours China creates a kind of maritime Great Wall. Chinese traders are restricted by license to engage in overseas trade. The sea is open to others.
Another important change is underway. When the Portuguese name the nameless island Formosa, the might of the Ming Dynasty is under attack. On the mainland a battle between the Ming in the South and the Manchu Ch’ing in the North is gathering speed. In 1544 the Ming Dynasty still has exactly one century to go before it surrenders its capital Peking in 1644 to the Ch’ing.
Against this backdrop the western invasion of the Chinese sea plays out.
When still in power, the Ming Empire accommodates the newcomers from the West, like it has done with the traders from Persia or India. Not far from the trading town of Canton, in the estuary of the Pearl River the Portuguese are allowed a trading post on the right bank. So Macao comes about, as two centuries later Hong Kong will be established on the opposite bank, or rather island.
Readers of detective novels may remember the cosmopolitan atmosphere of Ming Canton captured by Robert van Gulik in his Judge Dee story Murder in Canton.
The Dutch period from 1624 to 1662
More traders from the West are to come. Twenty years after its establishment in 1602 in Amsterdam the VOC (Dutch East India Trading Company) also aspires to have its own trading post on the coast of China. The officials of the empire seem to be ready to talk, but for the quick-tempered Dutch the process is too slow. They first try to eliminate the Portuguese competition by attacking Macao. This leads to ignominious defeat. Thereafter the peppery J. P. Coen leads the VOC into an attack on the Empire itself. This again fails. Batavia now decides to establish a base on the Pescadores.
This proves to be a difficult undertaking and the Company has to retreat further. At the instigation of Cantonese officials the VOC leaves Penghu castle and creates a new stronghold Zeelandia on Formosa. Taiwan gets its Chinese name from a shoal in the near vicinity of the fortress.
In the Chinese eyes the VOC has now been assigned to non-Chinese territory, or at least a neutral zone. A no man’s land.
The few settlements of Chinese traders or fishermen on the coast are marginal and temporary. The warlike habits of the aborigines are taking care of that.
In the considerations of the VOC Taiwan lies at the centre of two important trade routes.
Firstly there is the North-South connection from Japan to Java. For the VOC it is promising to create a stronghold and harbour halfway between Nagasaki and Batavia.
Moreover for Chinese traders Taiwan is an illegal point of contact with traders from Japan. Chinese traders were forbidden to trade freely with the pirate Kingdom of Japan. At Taiwan contacts were possible. The Chinese were in need of Japanese silver, their counterparts were looking for Chinese silk and porcelain. The Dutch hoped to get a foothold in that lucrative exchange.
Secondly, and less well known: Taiwan lies at the crossroads of another important trade connection, this time a Spanish one. This East-West route links South American silver-mines with China. Twice a year a fleet loaded with silver passes the Pacific to reach the Philippines. Within the Spanish Empire Luzon/Manila so becomes China’s alternative source of silver.
By the way not only silver, but also the tomato reaches China along this way. It was initially little appreciated.
The Spaniards protect their connection. Two years after the Dutch establish their presence in Mid-Formosa, the Spaniards build a fortress in the North of the island (San Domingo, 1626). I visited its castle near Taipei. But the Dutch attack and conquer the intruder.
In contrast with their usual practices the VOC not only wants to establish a well defended trading post (factory) but also to conquer and colonize the entire island. They want to make Formosa theirs.
This can be explained by their failure to dislodge the Chinese as middlemen in the intra-Asiatic trading. But also by the conviction that the island itself can generate export.
The natural first step is to create agriculture around the castle. The few hundred, perhaps a few thousand VOC dependents will have to become self-supporting.
For this thousands of Chinese will be immigrated into the island. It will become the first extensive Chinese settlement on Taiwan. The Chinese settlers will get a reputation of rising repeatedly against their Dutch masters. But when the Dutch leave forty years later, the population will have increased from 1500 to more than 30,000.
The Dutch army is not very big but very successful against the natives. With the help of bellicose clergymen they manage to pacify the whole island. Beneath the mountains, that is.
To occupy the island the Dutch impose a Land Council, in which all the important aboriginal village heads participate and that meets once a year.
The Dutch monopolize the exports, for instance, of deerskins to Japan. So too the trade in sulphur, important for the production of gunpowder. The VOC exports a hundred thousand pounds of sulphur per year. Rice and sugar will be added as new export products. They are still important to the island economy today.
This fast development of subtropical Formosa ends when Batavia does not take seriously enough the dire warnings of Governor Coyet about an impending Chinese invasion. A defensive fleet of twelve ships, manned by 900 sailors and 600 soldiers returns home to Batavia.
Suddenly the island will be invaded by the fleeing army of the Ming admiral Coxinga, in a striking foreshadowing of the invasion by the mainland nationalists, nearly three centuries later.
The reign of Ch’eng 1662-1683, a first interregnum
Coxinga is the name given by the Dutch to the last admiral of the Ming. It is a rendering of his official title Kuo Hsing-yeh. His family name was Ch’eng. His father Ch’eng Zi-long was already a trader and ship-owner, privately ruling the mainland seacoast. When the Ming are in retreat, they co-opt him as an admiral of the Ming fleet. He is married to a Japanese lady, Takawa Matsu, who begets him Coxinga. So the first Chinese conqueror of Taiwan is not only half Japanese, but also born in Japan.
Father Ch’eng turns coat after the fall of Peking in 1644. The Ch’ing finally execute him as untrustworthy. His son raises his flag and fleet and remains a staunch defender of the Ming. When he tries to even recapture the coast of Fujian (in another foreshadowing) the Ch’ing dynasty engages another former pirate and creates him Admiral Shi Lang. In a great battle at Penghu he batters Coxinga who flees to Taiwan with 25,000 men.
He knows the Dutch, for whom he has acted as middleman. Now he besieges the castle Zeelandia. He captures the parson Anthonius Hambroek and sends him as his messenger to the Dutch, telling them to surrender. The Dutch refuse and when Hambroek returns with this rejection Coxinga beheads him.
In Taipei I bought a recent translation in mandarin of a Dutch tragedy dating from 1795 ( a century after the events) and written by Johannes Nomsz. The title is Anthonius Hambroek or the siege of Formoza’.
After nine months, food gone and no help from Batavia in sight, the VOC surrenders its possessions. But the defenders are allowed to evacuate with flying colours and beating their drums.
This victory is still remembered today. In Taipei I visited the central park. It is rich in monuments and pavilions. In one of the pavilions I saw a bronze bust that reminded me of Coxinga. Two local vagrants were sitting on the floor and my friend asked them: ‘Who is that?’ ‘
‘Coxinga’, they answered. ‘He threw the Dutch out of Taiwan.’
‘Well’, I said, ‘I am a Dutchman.’
‘Well’, said one of the vagrants, ‘now you can hit him.’
More than 300 years later he is remembered as a national hero.
Nevertheless in Taiwan over the last half century the Dutch legacy has been revisited. They provoked the first extensive settlement of Chinese on the island. They created an infrastructure of roads and water-management. They introduced agriculture. They gave the aboriginal people a place in the political system. They spread their form of Christianity. To do this properly they acquired a knowledge of local languages and taught the population how to write these in Latin letters. In the nineteenth century on the island notarial papers were still not only written in Chinese but also in the local language with Dutch calligraphic lettering.
The Ch’ing in Taiwan 1683-1895
K’ang-hsi is the fourth Manchu emperor and now firmly controls the mainland. The ruler is repeatedly told about the unclear status of Taiwan. But he steadfastly rejects the pressures of his bureaucrats. Little can be gained by acquiring what critics call “a heap of mud in the water.”
Nevertheless he finally gives in to the argument that the island is a nuisance. Chinese are living there in disobedience. The island forms a refuge for pirates. In 1683 he decides: Taiwan will be a prefecture of the Province of Fujian and a magistrate is dispatched to create order. This Ch’ing administration will last 200 years.
Not so much has come to us in English, but recently a report has been translated that sheds light on the first phase of Ch’ing rule.
In 1696 the Imperial Powder House in Fuzhou explodes. This is unfortunate as it impinges on the delivery of fireworks. A great demand for pure sulphur results. The Chinese authorities of Fujian, aware that much sulphur used to come from Taiwan by way of the Dutch, accept the proposal of an adventurous scholar to create a new sulphur industry near Taipei. The name of this adventurer is Yu Yonghe. A year later already (1697) he leaves for Taiwan.
Recently his diaries have been translated (2003/2004) as Small Sea Travel Diaries. As a rare day to day accounts they are interesting.
The diaries reveal the author as an intrepid, curious, open-minded, warm-hearted man. He paints a portrait of an island that is difficult for Chinese to grapple with. On the way out he will lose contact with the other ships. The sea is still not to be trusted.
On the coast he will encounter villages of fishermen, that are tiny due to attacks of illnesses and aboriginals. Also a town that is not quite a town. Sir Yu decides to continue his exploration in two ways. He will march North with his helpers. Two ships will follow along the coast.
He immediately loses a ship. Travelling by land he loses many of his assistants through illnesses and much of his equipment. Yet undaunted he begins to acquire and purify sulphur near Taipei. There are many volcanic springs there, but also dangerous mosquitoes, snakes and natives. When he returns home he mainly brings the certainty that sulphur can be had.
The image that he brings back is not so much of a Chinese island, but a kind of frontier. The native are tattooed, matriarchal and hunting heads. They do not speak Chinese.
In his time Taipei is not yet the capital. But a century later Taipei will become a minor but typical provincial capital with administrative headquarters, a garrison, a court and regulated markets. The whole will only be surrounded by a wall in the 19th century. The Chinese will bring their language and writing, their rituals, their education and examinations, also their agriculture.
Traditionally the imperial bureaucracy will not penetrate deep into the country. The main task is to keep order and gather taxes, the “squeeze”, which does not make the government popular. Local farming and trading families do not feel much loyalty and this not only leads to tax avoidance but also to independent clans and regular uprisings. A Taiwanese proverb of the times says: ‘Every three years an uprising, every five years a rebellion’. In a sense the island has turned into a normal Chinese territory, in which chaos must be warded off, but rich and powerful families thrive. Some of their rich mansions are now national monuments.
In Beijing during the last quarter of the 19th century the battle between modernizers and traditionalists is raging. The last of the Chinese provincial governors on Taiwan belongs to the modernizers. He is credited with the creation of the first railroad on Taiwan. But his modernization will end after only ten years. China enters into a war about Korea, with modern Meiji Japan. The Chinese fleet and army lose the battle in a big way. With the Treaty of Shimonoseki, China transfers the island to Japan. That happens in 1895.
The Japanese Period 1895-1945
For Taiwan, after the point of view of the Dutch and the Chinese, now that of the Japanese starts to count. Forty years after the opening of Japan by Commodore Perry, the Meiji Regime has turned modern.
At Taiwan Japan wants to show the world that it can compete with the West. Taipei will have to become the capital of a model colony. A road system is constructed that encompasses the whole island. Taipei gets its present street-plan. Japan removes the Chinese city wall as a hindrance. New government buildings and city parks arise, like in the capital cities of Western colonies, Saigon or Batavia. The population is taught Japanese on a grand scale. Students are enrolled at universities in Japan.
For the first time the indigenous population encounters a modern administration, based on European examples. There are laws and rules and government offices. Japan not only imposes its system, but also tries to get it accepted by the population. In a period of fifty years the occupation shifts its mode of governance. In the first phase Japan establishes its will by harsh measures. In the second phase Japan tries to come to terms with local nationalism. An autonomy movement leads to demonstrations in the 1930’s which bring local elections in which the population finds a kind of half-representation in decentralized local government. In my view this lies a concrete foundation for later movements to autonomy.
The local elite forms cultural organizations that demand self-rule. They thereby appeal to the principles that Wilson introduced at Versailles and that will be supported by the League of Nations. This appeal for autonomy is based on the special status of the island. Japan is playing a game with nationalist movements in Western colonies, and so cannot completely ignore the island nationalists.
The generation that enters the Second World War does not only speak Japanese, but also thinks about the island as a nation. Yet the war also finishes Japanese patience with autonomy for the time being. Indonesia, Burma or Taiwan will in Japanese eyes later on have to find their places in the Japanese Co-prosperity Zone.
A second interregnum 1945-1949
After the Japanese capitulation in 1945 mainland China regains control of the island. In his struggle with other warlords on the mainland Chiang Kai-shek considers Taiwan a side-show. Taiwan will be governed from nationalist Beijing. This leads to a short interregnum till the victory of Maoism on the mainland in 1949.
Yet this short period will be of importance in the struggle for autonomy.
Seen from the mainland, Taiwan is a backwaters that has to get rid of its Japanese legacy. Three hundred thousand Japanese are forced to leave the island. Taiwan has to support the struggle on mainland China by the Kuo Min Tang.
Among the Chinese of the island there exist of course an awareness of the struggle between nationalists and communists on the mainland. But the majority seems more interested in now achieving some form of modern self-governance, within the new Chinese dispensation.
The strength of this agenda only becomes clear to China by the incident of 28 February ‘47. To this event in present Taipei a monument has been erected and a museum dedicated.
The incident starts with a female cigarette vendor. Agents of the Chinese monopoly bureau for Tobacco arrest her. Bystanders protest and in the shuffle someone is killed. The next day people gather in front of the government building demanding her release and another two demonstrators are killed.
A nearby radio-station, built by the Japanese, is now manned by Taiwanese journalists. They make live reports that are transmitted all over the island. This leads to demonstrations in no less than 65 towns on Taiwan. Everywhere action committees are formed, that morph into a kind of Taiwanese proto democracy. Among the members of the local committees are judges, professors, doctors.
There is a total incomprehension on the side of the military command for this development. On the other side the modernized elite of the island does not recognize itself in the rabble that fills the ranks of the mainland army.
Yet a small intermezzo follows in which a peacemaking committee is agreed upon. This committee develops a program of 32 points to improve the situation on the island. In my view the adoption of these points would have spared Taiwan 40 years of stagnation and distress.
The Kuo Min Tang generals interpret this initiative as open rebellion. A bloodbath follows. The situation worsens when after the defeat of 1949 no less than half a million Chinese flee from the mainland. A period of latent civil war follows, which is later recalled as the White Terror. The number of victims, largely under the local educated class, will be at least 20,000 but probably more.
It is not quite the Cambodian scenario, but the island is robbed of much of its human capital.
The Republic of China 1949-1987
One may perhaps characterize the forty year period of Kuo Min Tang rule on the island into two broad trajectories.
One is the steady decline in the position of Taiwan as the true representative of China. The other is the growth of the island by its internal development.
The main condition for these developments is the military protection by the United States of America. Taiwan has been saved by the Korean War from conquest by the Peoples Republic. In 1950 China is not only distracted by aiding North Korea, but is also prevented from attacking the island by the presence of the 7th fleet in the strait of Taiwan. The skirmishes about the island near the coast of Fujian may be dramatic, but China is no longer able to launch a surprise attack.
Only in 1972 the situation will alter significantly. The visit by Kissinger and Nixon recognizes the claims of China on Taiwan and ends the treatment of Taiwan as a country. Taiwan loses its position at the Security Council and the United Nations Nations.
An important provision is made: any transition should be peaceful. In Washington Congress by its Taiwan Relations Act moves to make less harsh the betrayal of the Republic of China on Machiavellian grounds. America will protect Taiwan against a takeover by military means as long as it behaves itself. Aggressive behavior by Taiwan towards mainland China is no longer possible. Externally the Kuo Min Tang agenda is dead.
Internally though it is still possible to show that the legacy of Sun Yat Sen is alive. The island gets a constitution based on the three principles of national unity, democracy and the wellbeing of the people. A land reform of enormous scope will be realized. Education is reformed and there will be a great investment in technology. A big museum will house the treasures from the mainland, that first had been moved from Peking to protect them from the Japanese, a second time from Nanking to protect them from the communist revolutionaries. When the Generalissimo finally dies a monumental memorial is raised, more fitting to the Forbidden City, in which the bronze statue of Chiang Kai Shek sits before a wall inscribed with the Three Principles of the People of Sun Yat Sen.
As his dynastic successor his son reveals himself to be a reformer. Martial law is lifted after forty years (1987). The national parliament, still a petrified remnant of the mainland parliament, gets a new infusion via elections from the island. The administration will be made more effective and economic development gets new impulses.
By dying early the younger Chiang solves the dynastic problem. From that moment elected presidents emanate from political parties. Initially from the Kuo Min Tang, surprisingly later on from the opposition. The island becomes a democracy.
An autonomous Taiwan? 1987 till today
It is hard to predict if democratic Taiwan will have an autonomous future. Perhaps we are only witnessing a third interregnum.
But for the moment an ample majority of the population votes for maintenance of the status quo. The political preference for autonomy gets the support of about two thirds of public opinion. In this a remarkable change of political positions is to be observed.
The Kuo Min Tang, once the party of conquering the mainland has evolved into its opposite: it now favors further integration into China. It acts as a kind of buffer between the wishes for autonomy by the majority of the population and the pressure of the Peoples Republic.
Meanwhile the economic position has improved. As one of the Asian Tigers Taiwan has become an indispensable provider of electronics to the Western World. It also invests in mainland China. It is said that a third of foreign investments in China originates in Taiwan. Many industries of Taiwan have factories in China.
Taiwan has become a favorite shopping and leisure destination for mainland Chinese. One has to think of millions of visitors. An important minority of Taiwanese has family on the mainland and visits them regularly.
I would not know how to characterize the consumers of Taiwan. It is no longer an underdeveloped country. As a rich country it clearly forms part of the global market and its brands. In Europe one will not find a presence of European fashion on this scale.
The Japanese influence can still be felt in hotels, eateries, manners, et cetera. It is not quite imaginable that Japan would relinquish this influence without protest.
The intellectuals and artists of Taiwan have greatly profited from their involvement in the Western world. They have grown in international importance.
A major example is the filmmaker Ang Lee, who became famous by his screening of the short story by the American writer Annie Proulx Brokeback Mountain.
One could characterize him as a member of the Chinese diaspora that has stretched their wings in the western space. There are other examples.
In 1990 the Prince Claus Fund for Culture and Development gave an award to the Taiwanese cartoonist Tsai Chih Chung. His rendering into comic strips of the classics of Chinese culture is a worldwide success, both in English and Mandarin. Lao Tze, Kong Fu Tze, Chuang Tze, or the Chinese Clausewitz Sun Tze, are available in Chinatowns all over the world. It was a great satisfaction to see them now honored with three well bound volumes in the bookstores of Taipei.
My visit made me aware of the high quality of artistic animation in Taiwan. Taiwan could well become a world laboratory for art and technology.
As long as freedom of expression is honored, a cultural renaissance of China as part of global occidental civilization is not to be excluded.
These impressions lead me back to my initial questions about the importance of Taiwan.
The geopolitical question is rather obvious. It is mainly a question of the balance of power between big nations.
If Taiwan is transferred to China the enormous impact of Taiwan on Western economies will be added to the already growing Chinese influence. Is it wise to make China even more powerful?
The transfer of Taiwan to China will also diminish the political influence of the international institutions created by the Pax Americana (1945-2005). The credibility of the West has already been weakened by the imperialism of Russia or imperialist actions by America.
By integrating Taiwan into China the whole coastal sea from Korea to Singapore will de facto become a Chinese domain. The American influence will be pushed back to the Pacific Ocean. Japan will probably reassert its claims and the chances for military conflict may increase. It will create great unrest in Vietnam, the Philippines and Korea.
China does not accept the laws of the sea. A status quo in this area could force it to adhere to international law.
Turning to the position of small nations Taiwan teaches us that with some luck a prudent opportunism helps, but that basically the big ignore the interests of the small. As long as they are coveted by both they may preserve the status of a buffer. It seems that in the case of Taiwan for the moment the maintenance of status quo creates less fuss for everybody.
If moral considerations only apply to the relationships between equal powers, for the small nation only an appeal to conscience is left, as Thucydides already observed in his dialogue on Melos, two and a half thousand years ago. Athens basically claims that power makes right and that moral claims are of no importance in the relationship between a big and a small nation. Melos, given no choice but to surrender, claims that this is not right. This is a moral appeal to a world order of legal equality between nations that was still inconceivable.
Could an even more fundamental reason be conceived that would make it wise to preserve small nations? One could perhaps raise the importance of diversity.
Small nations, especially those living at the crossroads of influences, could serve as pioneers or laboratories of mankind. They might experiment alternative ways.
The example of Taiwan teaches us that is has escaped from the traditional Chinese dilemma of chaos and repression. It is experimenting with the road to democracy for the wider Chinese political culture.
In the political ecology of the world it could be significant to observe what happens in small nations like Taiwan, Singapore or the Netherlands.
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Macabe Keliher (transl.)
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Translated into Mandarin by Wang Wen Xuan
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The National Academy for Educational Research, Taiwan
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